This is for the people out there who struggle with judging parents.
I would like to preface with: I am not writing the following to call anyone in particular out, but as a person who has been (and still is at times) guilty of judging other's parenting. This is not to make anyone feel guilty, or to justify what may be my own short-comings, but to help encourage understanding, and perhaps some grace as well.
Before I became a parent, I thought the whole parenting thing was fairly easy. I mean I figured it was hard, I wasn't completely ignorant--in fact, it was my experience with children that made me think parenting would come naturally and flow quite smoothly for me. At least, this is my opinion looking back on old me. If you would have asked me then I would have said (with complete conviction) something more along the lines of, "Oh yeah, I can't even imagine how difficult parenting must be! No rose colored glasses here, I know it must be so challenging!" Or something else that might give you the impression that I had any idea of what I was talking about. Here is the thing: the "difficult" times I imagined then are skittley-dittley-rainbows compared to the difficult times I actually face as a parent. The truth was, I knew what I believed and just figured placing my beliefs into actions with parenting couldn't be any harder than with any other aspect of my life (wait... since when is that easy??).
Here is the complicated thing about parenting: Children. I know, I know, it sounds like sarcasm, but really it doesn't quite hit you until you realize the same ideas, tactics, and rules don't only not apply to every child, but not even to the same child depending on the time in their life (and by "hit you" I don't mean see it in theory and understand it, but as it quite literally SMACKS you in the face). Take a look at yourself and it's plain as day: Can anyone make you anything you are not? They can encourage, teach, and guide you all they want, but in the end, you choose who you will be. Mmm, yes, let's dip our toes into the pool of complexity. Now, I don't want to completely blame children. Parents are incredibly complicated too. No matter how old we get, we're still trying to figure ourselves out, we are still affected by lack of sleep and hungry bellies, we still want to rebel. (Oh how I love to rebel!)
So here is my attempt to bring understanding to some scenes you may witness on any given day and be tempted to judge. I am going to write about moms simply because I am one, even though this applies to fathers as well.
1. Mother snaps at child for stepping on her foot when it's pretty obvious the child didn't mean to.
While it may be tempting to think, Geez, she's just a kid, chill out lady. Keep in mind that this parent probably has A LOT on her mind other than what's going on here. This mother gives of herself all day long, in almost every possible way. She has her hair pulled, face scratched, and nipples bit. She feeds, bathes, and clothes her children before she even gets a comb to her own head. Loses sleep to help her children sleep. Can not even finish a poop before five other requests are made of her. And besides ALL that (and so much more) she has to think about bills, car issues, relationships, and futures. So maybe, when her toes are suddenly crushed and her thoughts come rushing back to reality, she may just feel a little used, overwhelmed, and frustrated. Maybe it's not about her kid at all.
2. Mother seemingly ignoring her talking child.
Your first thoughts may be, That poor child. All he wants is his mother's attention and she's completely ignoring him! Realize that more than likely she has been devoutly listening to her child for hours on end, and perhaps this child doesn't stop talking, and this is her mind's self-preservation tactic to keep her sane. (Not that I have any experience with this one! ;-)
3. Mother talks on her cell phone/reads book while her children play at the park.
This may look like this mother's priorities are all mixed up. You may think, This lady is completely taking for granted her children's youth! The most important thing to remember when tempted to judge anyone in public is: this is one small portion of their life you are witnessing. This mother probably spends most of the day playing with her kids and guiding them through activities. Perhaps her kids don't take naps anymore. Perhaps this is her ONLY break all day! So give her a break and know that just because she's not down on her knees building sand castles with her tots, doesn't mean she wasn't doing just that the day before. (I am at the park almost daily and I've noticed that parents who work tend to use park time as quality play time with their kids, and parents who stay home with their kids tend to use park time to catch a little breather. Either way, doesn't mean they love their kids any less!)
4. Mother and child in the grocery store: Child throwing a tantrum in cart. Mother, seemingly oblivious, continues shopping.
Ok, we've all been here before: Why isn't she doing anything? No wonder that kid is crazy, she doesn't discipline! Or even, Obviously the kid needs attention, if she didn't ignore him maybe he'd stop screaming. And most popular, I will never let my child act like that in public! Let's get one thing straight: EVERY child at some point in their life (meaning you and I as well) throws a fit in a grocery store. Most likely more than once (or twice, or three times...). Whether this is the parent's fault is not even the issue. Parents are flawed just like the rest of the human race, they don't hold all the answers, and many times the "answers" are flawed too. Not to mention (as I said before), children (like the rest of us) are who they are. So why do mothers so often choose to continue shopping instead of doing the decent thing for the child (and the other shoppers) and come back at another time? Because more often than not, this is the ONLY time she has. Particularly if she has other children, a job, or school, there is not a lot of time to fit in shopping--which I think we can all agree is rather necessary. Your kid throwing a fit is really embarrassing, regardless of the reason. Whether people are looking at you with "I totally understand!" eyes, or "Shut that kid up!" eyes, really most parents would rather no attention at all. In spite of the stares and their pride, they must finish shopping if they want to feed their family. (Sometimes it doesn't matter even if you go at the perfect time of day, have a snack for your kid, and a detailed list. Kids love a fit in a store!)
5. Mother is disciplining her child. It is obviously not working.
This is one of the most difficult things, for mother, child, and observer. You almost can't even control the thoughts that just roll off the tip of your brain in the most effortless way, She's not doing this right. Whether you have a "solution" or just know you'd handle it better if you were in her shoes--STOP YOURSELF RIGHT THERE! And remember you are NOT in her shoes. Then turn off your brain to the best of your ability, stuff a sock in your mouth, and take a little stroll, because this is not your place. It doesn't matter how many books you read, how down pat you have your disciplining tactics, how patient and wise you may be, discipline does not result in a perfectly obedient child. A "perfectly obedient child" doesn't exist! And regardless of how well thought out your discipline methods may be, if you find yourself as a parent, you will find yourself lost at some point. Whatever you do, never, ever step in to "help" when a parent is disciplining their child (unless they ask you to). Whether you are a parent or not (or even a grandparent) this is not your place. Even when your intentions are completely pure. Not only is this incredibly disrespectful to the parent involved, but also not helpful in the least. Remember that it is never your place to discipline another person's child unless the parent has given you the authority to do so (unless the parent is being abusive--then by all means step in!). So step back, take a breath, and thank God it's not your responsibility!
I would like to reiterate that I am not pointing my finger at anyone. I speak because I am guilty. Although I can honestly say that with each day that passes I judge other parents a little bit less (there is good reason for this). Whether you are a parent, will be, or never will be: Keep an open mind, be gracious, and judge as you would like to be judged. (And by that I mean don't judge.) If you are a parent and have never found yourself completely overwhelmed and at a loss of what to do, pinch yourself, because you probably don't actually exist! (Except of course, in a Berenstain Bear book.)